Behind The Lens: Cradle of Life

Cradle of Life
“Cradle of Life” Lone giraffe on the Serengeti Plains under dramatic evening skies. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens @ 70mm, 1/250 second @ f/13, ISO 100.

Cradle of Life

This captivating image of a giraffe on the Serengeti Plains almost never saw the light of day. Captured in June of 2017, it has languished in my image files (perhaps it was published somewhere on social media at some point) as a rather pedestrian sentimental wildlife image with a contrived, rule-of-thirds composition. There’s the fantastic, early evening light with crepuscular rays that added a dramatic flair, that’s all it had going for it to be honest.

I should say that it wasn’t exactly the same photo as the one you see above but it was the same capture. The original color version just didn’t inspire me very much, but I revisited this image during the coronavirus lockdown and decided to see how it felt in black and white. It was only then that the image came alive: the Serengeti grasses pulsed with the blowing wind; the light flooded the frame as the rays beamed from the sky; and the dark storm clouds loomed ominously over the wide expanse of the plains.

All of that was missing in the color version. My image portfolio is made up of 95 percent color images because color is such a big part of my experiences but every once in a while, a black and white interpretation better expresses how a scene felt to me than color. Cradle of Life is one of those exceptions.

The key to creating powerful and compelling black and white images is contrast. If your original raw file doesn’t contain much contrast, make it. Darken the darks, lighten the lights, create contrast by selectively adjusting tonal values of each corresponding color. And unlike color photos where there’s an implied threshold of believability that shouldn’t be crossed (photography is the only form of art where people expect the image to represent something real) that isn’t the case with black and white. Push the blacks to the limit if you like. The black and white medium doesn’t represent what we see because we don’t see the world that way. You have more creative latitude as a photographer to create mood with monochrome even if there isn’t any.

Cradle of Life was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera body and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens. The image was processed in Adobe Lightroom and Skylum Luminar 4.

Cradle of Life can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe.